Tuesday, December 14, 2010

61. That Cat

My unfortunate experiences with animals have been mentioned earlier, and the fact that I will avoid contact with them at all costs. There was a cat that used to sit on the ledge outside the kitchen window every Friday evening when I brought the meat ration home for the servants. My sister, Maureen, dearly wanted to let the cat in, but I forbade her to do so. One evening she was there before I returned home and the cat was IN and I was cross. That evening the animal, now christened “That Cat” climbed onto my lap, crawled up my chest placed his arms around my neck and purred. He was IN alright! That Cat followed me everywhere and when I was kneeling down gardening he would walk around me and all over me. One afternoon Tom said, “That Cat is pregnant.” The statement took me by surprise on two counts, first I thought That Cat was a boy and second how could Tom be so observant when he had not even noticed when I was pregnant. “I tell you,” he repeated, “That Cat is pregnant.” And so he, or rather she, was. No wonder she had been so anxious to get IN. She gave birth to five kittens in a box in the pantry. Then, when they were about ten days old, she disappeared. I could not understand this because she had been such an attentive mother; however someone told me that ten days after giving birth cats tended to go off looking for another lover; which was certainly not what I wanted to do ten days after my deliveries! We found her about three days later, sheltering under the outside wall, broken and in pain. I laid her carefully among the kittens who immediately clung to her, they were so hungry. Later she wanted to go outside and dragged her poor, injured body along the ground.
The next day I took That Cat and her kittens to the vet for his opinion. He said that the cat had been terribly injured, either by a car or someone’s boot, and that her pelvis was broken. It could probably be mended but the animal might not thank me because she would be in constant pain. As for the kittens, no-one could be found who was prepared to rear the five little ones. We were going overseas for a month and so I asked the vet to dispose of them all. Tom later phoned me at the office to ask what the results of the X-Rays had been. I told him. Again he had surprised me. I have had many X-Rays, hundreds of specialists’ appointments and more surgical procedures than I care to remember, but never once had Tom phoned me to enquire about the results! In my next life I want to be a cat, preferably of the Tom Cat variety.

There was a robbery from the 'kia' and the gardener came to me to complain that his suitcase had been stolen. The police were called, statements were taken and that was that. A few days later I saw a man by the servants’ quarters, all dressed up in feathers and stuff, and I guessed that he was a witch doctor. Some strange smelling smoke drifted across to the house and I heard some chanting. Two days later I found the suitcase on the front lawn, apparently thrown over the garden wall, with everything intact! I telephoned the police station to tell them that the stolen goods had been returned, and made the mistake of mentioning that the witch doctor had performed some ceremony which had produced the magical result. That was a big mistake. The Inspector wanted to come out and take a statement from me because it was unlawful to allow a witchdoctor to practice on my property and I could be in trouble. Somehow I managed to waffle my way out of it, but it was all very strange. Lesson to be learned, never divulge more than you absolutely have to anyone, unless under oath!

As I have already told you, the swimming pool in the garden was very large, about twelve feet deep at one end, and because the weather had been overcast and gloomy the water in the pool became discoloured and full of algae. I knew nothing about the maintenance of swimming pools, I knew the gardener threw some stuff into it each day but that was all. In my crass ignorance, I decided that the best way to clean the pool was to shake a box of washing detergent into it. BIG MISTAKE. The pool now looked such a mess that I did not know what to do and heaven forbid that I should ask anyone for help and advice. I had messed it up, so I must sort it out. Well, the pool needed repainting anyway. So I drained it, and asked the gardener to start scraping the sides. He was too slow so I took over. Everyone said I could not possibly do it, what with the heat, high blood pressure etc., but those were the fatal words and there was no turning back. I bought the paint, which was very scarce at the time, and began painting. It was pretty dangerous down there at the deep end, trapped in the scorching sun and the paint fumes. Then the paint ran out before I had finished and no more could be found locally. Panic time because the bosses did not know what I was doing, and I had hoped to get it finished before they found out. If I could not finish the painting, then the pool would be unusable. Finally some paint was located in Salisbury and sent down by rail. The job was finished and, from then on, I left the care of it to George, the gardener!

Dorothy, the house maid, was a lovely woman who had worked at George Avenue for many years. She lived in her little house at the end of the garden with her daughter, who had joined her since the work load had increased with the arrival of more visitors. She was independent, and quite happy and so I was very surprised when she told me that she was leaving. She said that she was getting married but, far from being happy about it, she was crying. I asked her what was wrong and she told me that she had to marry a very old man, a retired preacher, because her brothers had arranged the marriage so that she could look after him. I was incensed at the unfairness of it all. Women in Africa have no rights, if a husband dies his brother can take everything, including the wife, and she gets nothing. I gave Dorothy a box of pottery table ware and never saw her again. I get rather bored when European women whine on about having ME time, and what they should stand up for etc. They have no idea how much respect and independence they already do have compared to the African woman who has nothing. If an African wife is barren her sister is expected to stand in for her, or lie in for her, and produce a child. (I told Tom he was way out of luck because neither of my sisters had wombies) But, isn’t it strange that, in spite of their lack of freedom, there are probably more women members in the South African Parliament than in the English Houses of Parliament? Many of them hold ministerial positions, but how well they carry out their duties I cannot say.

Another Tom, not mine, had been shot in the leg by a terrorist and, together with his wife and two children, stayed with me until his leg healed and the plaster was removed. The night before he was due to return to the ranch he went to a braai at a friend’s house, walked across the lawn, fell down a hole that had been dug ready to plant a tree, and broke the other leg. Sometimes there aint no justice.

With the death of Ted Wigg, that darling man of whom I was so fond, a new Managing Director was sent out from England and needed the house in George Avenue, so we had to find somewhere else to live. Living rent free for over a year had improved our financial position greatly so we were able to buy another house. Now that the company house was no longer available to them, some of the Leibigs ranch staff said they would like to continue staying with us when they came to town, so we bought a house with a guest room. Now here is a touch of irony. George Avenue was situated in Kumalo where there were many magnificent houses, but just round the corner, in Kumalo North, there had been an airfield where the Royal Air Force aircrew were trained during and after the war. A large number of married quarters had been built there and these had subsequently been sold off to civilians many years ago. The houses were very inexpensive and we bought one of them. Might we have occupied that very house if Tom’s posting had not been cancelled in 1946? We seemed to have come full circle.

Kumalo North was a bit of a come down after George Avenue, but one thing I can do is adjust! We had an interesting garden with a paw paw tree that was so tall we had to wait for the fruit to drop to the ground before we could use it. There were hoopoe birds, honey birds, bishop birds as well as sparrows and doves. We used to feed them and if we were late home the sparrows would be perched on top of the car port giving us a thousand chirps because we were late with their supper. Tom loved watching them; he was such a gentle man. He was also a soft touch! We had a gardener, whom I distrusted, so when I caught him taking money from my purse I fired him on the spot. I did not usually leave my purse lying around, but this was a momentary lapse.

Because these old married quarters were cheap it was one of the first areas to become multiracial, treeless and scruffy. The black woman who had moved next door knocked at the door and suggested that the car in our driveway be moved because they were chopping down a tree and did not know which way it would fall. The car was quickly moved and I went to look at the tree. It was very tall and very large. Now the usual method of felling a tree in a built up area is to climb up it, tie the top branches with rope, one at a time, loop the rope securely over another branch, cut off top branch and lower it to the ground, branch by branch in manageable pieces. Not these chaps. As if they were living in the middle of a large forest, they had chopped the tree at its base and there it swayed. It would either crash through their roof or ours! It was one very big tree about to fall in one very small area. With a few pushes it landed away from our house and just took off part of the guttering of the house next door.

The sound I hate the most, apart from the wartime sirens and doodle bugs, is that of barking dogs. It drives me to distraction. A black policeman moved into the house across the way and his dogs barked all night long, so I went across to complain, as politely as possible. This big, fierce looking chap said he could not go out at night to shut the dogs up because “there might be burglars about and it would be dangerous!”

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